September 23, 2018

Is it a Charity or a Scam?

I'm on the DO NOT CALL registry but that doesn't stop people from calling me and asking me to donate some money to their police and firefighter charities. Some of these charities are not really charities, they are businesses. They give a small amount of money to some fire department somewhere and keep 90 percent or more of the money they bring in. It's legal, but deceitful to pull on people's heartstrings for profit.  It is up to us to check out these businesses and find out just how charitable they really are. We have both federal and state laws that regulate non profits and charity fundraisers and require reporting that reveals how much of the money that is taken in gets donated to the charity.

Carols by Candlelight is the name of a Christmas concert put on by Steve Vaus. It is heavily promoted as a charity event that benefits Rady's Children's Hospital.  Carols by Candlelight is not a nonprofit with a 503(c)(3) with an IRS tax number, that would allow donors to take a deduction for their donation. Nor is Carols by Candlelight (or Steve Vaus Production) registered in the State of California's  database of charitable organizations or fundraising entities that  comply with the State of California's registry and reporting requirements. Some years ago, when Steve Vaus sent emails to me and my friends, asking us to be angels and donate thousands of dollars to his Carols by Candlelight production, the implication was that those donations would be tax deductible. But they were not. And because they are not, I was unable to find out how much of my donation would end up being given to the charity and how much would end up in Steve Vaus' pocket.

The Carols by Candlelight concerts are held on 2 days in December in Escondido's Center for the Performing Arts. The concert hall has 1500 seats. Ticket prices for this year are $69-$87. You can also buy "hero tickets" for active duty military and first responders for $25 each.  Ticket sales could potentially could bring in between $200,000- $250,000 gross.

Every year, Steve Vaust starts soliciting for donors for Carols by Candlelight. Donors can give $15,000 for Title Sponsorship (previously it was $25,000), $10,000 to underwrite band costs, $5,000 to underwrite travel expenses; 2,500 for hospitality plates; $1500 to underwrite stage decorations and $1,000 to underwrite raffle expenses. It is unknown how much money is donated by these Christmas angels. In addition, there is a raffle or auction, and items are likely donate. Currently, this years Carols by Candlelight already has 8 Sponsors and 3 Media Sponsors listed, although I do not know how much each one contributed. The total amount donated to Carols by Candlelight is not public information because Carols by Candlelight is not a nonprofit charity.

Nevertheless, Vaus is sure to look for any extra bucks he can get.
In 2012, Steve Vaus, who was then a candidate for Poway council, applied for a grant from California  Municipal Finance Authority (CMFA).  CMFA arranges bond financing for capital projects. They charge a fee for issuing the bonds, and a portion of the fees that they collect are returned to the communities they serve by giving out grants to other non-profits in the community.  Steve Vaus applied for $5000 to buy tickets for veterans to attend Carols by Candlelight. Vaus could have given the tickets away for free, but he would rather get CMFA and others to pay for them.

On Nov 2, 2012  CMFA, sent a letter to Mona Durney, Executive Director of Carols by Candlelight, and enclosed a check. for $5000.

The check was made out to Carols by Candlelight. On Dec 12, 2012, Valerie Brown, of RB United, sent a letter to CMFA, confirming the receipt of the $5000 check for Carols by Candlelight.  Why was the donation sent to RB United? Perhaps, because RB United was a 501 (c)(3), a real, honest-to-goodness nonprofit, the type that CMFA can legally give money to.

So who is RB United? This is from their webpage:

We began as two separate but related organizations: RB United and ReBuild RB.

RB United formed as a non-profit partnership of the RB Community Foundation, the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce, and The San Diego Foundation to assess and handle the community’s needs in the immediate aftermath of the 2007 Witch Creek fires.  ReBuild RB was created as a 501(c) (3) public charity to serve the survivors of the 2007 Witch Creek Fires, with 90% of all funds collected by Rebuild RB going directly to individual fire victims.

Our two organizations merged in 2009 into a single local non-profit agency capable of applying for grants and seeking underwriting for emergency preparedness and community improvement projects.  We maintain the website name ReBuild RB, but operate under the umbrella name RB United.
During our first two years, RB United served 527 fire families in the communities of Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Rancho Santa Fe, Escondido, and Ramona; coordinated 274 events with 10,000+ total attendees; collaborated with 130 organizations and businesses; and leveraged almost $1.2 million for fire recovery efforts (against an outlay of approximately $250,000 from The San Diego Foundation’s Disaster Board)

In  2012, RB United morphed into 4 Community Solutions. In addition to helping fire victims, and a neighborhood emergency response group, they collaborated with the City of Poway to put on the Poway Days Parade.  They $5000 donation from CMFA should have been reported on this 2012 tax form, but I could not find it. Nor did I  find the words "Carols by Candlelight".  I have no idea what happened with that money.

It is quite the irony that Steve Vaus was funneling donations to his for profit charity through a nonprofit intended to help fire victims. In 2009, Vaus, a political unknown in Poway politics, spearheaded a recall of Councilwoman Betty Rexford. One of his more vitriolic claims is that Rexford misused a firetruck and had it sent to her neighborhood while other Poway homes burned.  A subsequent city report verified that the fire department had acted appropriately when it sent a truck to Rexford's neighborhood to mop up hot spots.

In 2013, 4Community Solutions 990 tax form mentions a community parade and community concert. I doubt this is Carols by Candlelight, but who knows? I've called Valerie Brown, the person who prepared these tax returns, but she has not yet responded to my questions.

The first time the words "Carols by Candlelight appears on 4Community Solutions tax forms is in the 2014 tax year.   It looks like Carols by Candlelight was given $59,492 that year, the majority of all of 4Community Solution's expenses which totaled $64,472. From this tax form, there is no way to tell how much money was donated to Carols by Candlelight and there is no mention of giving money to the charity, Rady's Hospital.  I was hoping the person who filled out these forms would inform me of how much money was actually donated to the charity, but these tax forms do not provide that information.

In 2015, 4 Community Solutions filed a fictitious business statement in San Diego County. They were "doing business as" Carols by Candlelight and a bunch of other entities.

That same year 4 Community Solutions listed $48, 046 given to Carols by Candlelight on their 990 tax form.  Note that Carols by Candlelight is described as a "Community wide" concert. It almost sounds like a whole community was the beneficiary instead of ticket holders, doesn't it? By this time 4Community Solutions had changed from being a charity that helped fire victims to a fiscal sponsorship nonprofit.  According to 4Community Solutions website, fiscal sponsorship involved  some accounting and tax services and insurance and lending their nonprofit status to "unincorporated nonprofits".

Carols by Candlelight is not an unincorporated nonprofit. It is just the name of an event. It was never a nonprofit.  I do not know why 4Community Solutions thought it was appropriate to let Carols by Candlelight use their non profit tax ID number.  And 4Community Solutions is not the only entity doing business as Carols by Candlelight. Steve Vaus' sole proprietorship, Steve Vaus Productions is also doing business as Carols by Candlelight. The lines between 4Community Solutions, Carols by Candlelight and Steve Vaus Productions are all very murky.  While 4Communityt Solutions nonprofit tax ID number is prominently displayed on the Carols by Candlelight webpage, the donation links go to Steve Vaus Productions. A friend of mine, with a heart for veterans ordered 500 worth of tickets from the Carols by Candlelight in 2017. The bank statement from the credit card showed that the money went to Steve Vaus Productions. My friend was fooled by Carols by Candlelight webpage into thinking that his donation would be tax deductible. It isn't.

There is also a question about what happened to  all of the other incoming assets and expenses from the concert. Ticket sales alone should have brought in several hundred thousand dollars.  Steve Vaus wasn't performing for free and neither were the other singers and musicians. His production company was likely also paid. Where is the accounting and tax record of those expenses?  How much in donations came in via money given to Steve Vaus Productions, a sole proprietorship owned by Steve Vaus? Which donations and expenses belonged to 4 Community Solutions and which belonged to Steve Vaus Productions? Did Steve Vaus take a tax deduction on his personal income tax for the contribution to Rady's? Where were all of the income and donations reported?

The 2016 tax return for 4 Community Solutions is not online. The 2017 return has not yet been filed.

I am waiting for the answers to those questions from Valerie Brown, of 4 Community Solutions. She took down my questions and promised to get back to me today, but she did not call. The  4Community Solutions website has been down since I began inquiring about their sponsorship of Carols by Candlelight. Almost all of the previous online information has been removed.  The person who was listed on the tax forms and the IRS forms as the chief board member told me he has not had anything to do with the group for many years. The one question I really want to know is how much did Carols By Candlelight take in, how much were the expenses, how much did Steve Vaus, his family members and his production company get, and how much was the gross profit that was given to Rady's Children Hospital.

Knowing that many of the donations that came in were given to Steve Vaus Productions, I also have a question about the reporting of those donations on economic interest forms filed with the City of Poway. Every year, each member of the city council (and certain the employees) must file  form 700, Statement of Economic Interests. Schedule A-2 of form 700 is titled "Investments, Income, and Assets of Business Entities/Trusts. Every year from 2012-2016, Steve Vaus has listed Steve Vaus Productions as an owned business entity.  Vaus has indicated that his sole proprietorship is worth $100,000 to a million dollars, and his gross income is over $100,000.  Some of this income is likely from the Carols by Candlelight concert.

In 2012 and 2014, Vaus reported no gifts. In 2013, 2015 and 2016, Vaus did report gifts, but I did not see any of the donations from Carols by Candlelight donors on the list.  If people bought tickets for veterans and paid money to Steve Vaus Productions, that donation should be listed on Steve Vaus' Form 700.

Where did the Carols by Candlelight donations from Edco, SDG&E,  Poway Toyota, Kristin Gaspar's husband and others go? 4Community Solutions or Steve Vaus Productions?  Shouldn't Steve Vaus be reporting these donations as gifts on his Form 700? How do we know how much Edco gave to Steve Vaus. How much of that donation ended up at Rady's and how much ended up in Steve Vaus' pocket. Will Vaus recuse himself from discussion and voting on Edco's next contract?  Vaus was not on the council when they voted to give Toyota millions of dollars to move across the street, but it can't hurt for Toyota to have a friend at city hall for the next deal. And what might Kristin Gaspar's husband want from Steve Vaus? Maybe a patronage position for a friend of theirs?

Although Carols by Candlelight is now touting a borrowed nonprofit IRS number on their webpage, unlike true nonprofits, they do not report what percentage of all of the money collected goes to the real charity, Rady Children's Hospital. The do not report how much goes into Steve Vaus' pocket.  I do not recommend donating to Carols by Candlelight until they comply with the nonprofit and charity fundraising reporting laws. You can always donate directly to Rady's Children's Hospital and take a tax deduction.

September 15, 2018

Caylin Frank, Kristin Gaspar, Steve Vaus and Carols by Candlelight

On June 18th, at a special council meeting,  four Poway Councilmen picked Caylin Frank to be the interim city councilmember, filling Jim Cunningham's seat until a replacement could be elected in November.  Caylin Frank's appointment was an insult to the people of Poway because Mrs. Frank had moved to Poway less than 3 months before her appointment. She didn't know the people she was chosen to represent, and they had no idea who she was.

Caylin Frank's appointment was also an insult to the 14 other candidates who filled out applications, and gave presentations before the council that night.  None of their efforts mattered, because, by all appearances, the council had chosen Frank long before the evening's charade began.

I was not surprised Caylin Frank was chosen because I had heard rumors that Mayor Steve Vaus had found someone to appoint to the council.  But I wasn't the only one who got a heads up.   County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar seemed to know all about it, too.

On June 10th, Caylin Frank and Steve Vaus attended an event for Kristin Gaspar at Second Chance Beer Company.  In a video from the event that was posted on County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar's facebook page, Mrs. Gaspar can be heard  introducing Steve Vaus, and then introducing Caylin Frank:
"… Caylin's going to be a fantastic councilmember.  I want you to get to know her and help support her. This is her baby over here.  So you can imagine, I can really relate to her. "

Maybe Gaspar can relate to Frank because both of them are mothers of young children. Or maybe it is because they are both from Encinitas.  Frank's mother, Christy Guerin, was once mayor of Encinitas. Christy Guerin resigned that position to work for Brian Bilbray.  Her daughter, Caylin, got an intern  job with Bilbray for a while too. Kristin Gaspar also served on the Encinitas council. She was elected in 2014. Two years later, she ran for, and won an election for county supervisor. That is a super fast climb up the ladder for a political newbie. Maybe that is also how she relates to Caylin Frank. With Caylin's appointment to the Poway Council as a steppingstone, she, too, may have plans of moving up to a higher office, especially with the help of political insiders.

Caylin Frank has one solid Poway connection-  Steve Vaus. Vaus and Frank were facebook friends before she was selected to be the interim councilperson, representing Powegians she did not know.  Frank worked (and still works) as an aide to county supervisor Bill Horn. So Caylin Frank, Kristin Gaspar and Steve Vaus would have spent time together at Sandag meetings in addition to hobnobbing at campaign events for each other.

Vaus and Gaspar are also campaign donation buddies.  Vaus donated $350 to Gaspar's 2016 supervisorial campaign and Gaspar has already kicked in $100 for Vaus re-election.  Vaus started collecting donations in January, long before the nomination period began.   Gaspar also spent $2500 of her 2016 campaign dollars on Vaus'  so-called "charity fundraiser", Carols by Candlelight.  The code on the expenditure form is "MTG" which means "meetings and appearances".  By all appearances, it seems as if Gaspar used campaign funds to buy tickets to Vaus' gala production, Carols by Candlelight.

Carols by Candlelight is billed as a charity production put on by Steve Vaus. The website says that the net proceeds from Carols by Candlelight go to Rady Children's hospital.  But how much of Gaspar's $2500  donation ended up in Steve Vaus' pocket, and how much actually went to the charity  is not public information.

Back when Vaus was running for council in 2009, I wrote about his 'for profit" business, Carols by Candlelight. Vaus had sent me emails and hit me up to "be an angel" and  donate to the production of Carols by Candlelight. He was asking for thousands of dollars in donations back then, without disclosing how much money from the event went into his pocket, and how much went to the charity.

So, here we are,  9 years later. Vaus is still asking for thousands of dollars in donations: $15,000 to be a title sponsor; $10,000 to underwrite the band costs; $5,000 to underwrite travel costs of the performers; $2,500 for plates of food for the performers; $,1500 for stage decorations and $1,000 to underwrite raffle expenses. Vaus seems to be really raking in the donations now, compared to the lean years before he was on the Poway council. Some of the 2017 donors, who could benefit from  pleasing the mayor, include  Edco, Toyota of Poway,  and SDG&E. There is also a donation from a company owned by Paul Gaspar, Kristin Gaspar's husband.  Those Gaspars sure do like to give money to Steve Vaus.

There is something else on the Carols by Candlelight page which caught my eye.  Vaus now claims he is a nonprofit company with a nonprofit number. In the lower right hand corner of the Carols by Candlelight page, it says "Qualified 501(c)(3) Taxpayer Identification number 26-1722021. 4Community Solutions-dba Carols by Candlelight 18402 W Bernardo Drive San Diego, CA 92127.   But that nonprofit number is not for Vaus' company, Steve Vaus Productions, the company he names on his statement of economic interest forms filed with the City of Poway.  The nonprofit number Vaus is using belongs to a charity located in Rancho Bernardo called 4 Community Solutions.
4 Community Solutions was formerly called RB United and was set up to help fire victims.

4 Community Solution's website no longer seems to load. But before it went down I took screen shots of some of the pages.  I have also downloaded the groups 990 IRS forms. Carols by Candlelight appears to be the biggest chunk of money on those 990 forms. But nowhere on those forms is there information that all nonprofits have to disclose- how much of the money went to the charity and how much went for salaries and expenses and whatever else Vaus spent it on.

It is also uncertain how much money is collected by sale of tickets and from donations that people do not request a tax deduction for. Note that on Carols by Candlelight's webpage, all of the live donation links are directed to Steve Vaus, not 4 Community Solutions, the non profit, whose number Vaus has displayed and claimed is doing business as Carols by Candlelight.

Clicking on this donate button

gets you to this form:

Notice that the donation goes to Steve Vaus Productions, not 4 Community Solutions.
I looked up Steve Vaus Productions in guidestar. It is not listed as a nonprofit.
Steve Vaus Productions is no longer listed in the state of California corporation database, although, I do believe it was incorporated in California at one time. So maybe it is incorporated in another state.  Or maybe not.

I have contacted some of the purported officers from 4 Community Solutions, as I am trying to find out more about how this nonprofit has allowed Vaus to conceal how much money goes to the charity and how much money goes into his pocket.  They first person I contacted told me he had never heard of 4 Community Solutions or Carols by Candlelight. And yet this man who is an investment advisor was listed as the chief officer on 4 Community Solutions website before it quit loading and on fairly recent tax returns. I am still in the process of contacting other officers whose names are listed on the tax forms. So far, I am not getting any responses. But I will keep you posted when I do hear from them.

Note: Caylin Frank has claimed that Kristin Gaspar was referring to Caylin's applying to run in November election, not her upcoming appointment in the video, but I'm not buying her story.

Update (Sept 19, 2018): Apparently Kristin Gaspar spent another $2500 of her campaign donations on Carols by Candlelight tickets on 2 occasions. This form covers expenditures in early 2016.  That brings her total spending on Carols by Candlelight to $5000.

Update 2 (Sept 19, 2018) The Carols by Candlelight page   and the 4 Community Solutions webpages have both been changed since this blog was posted. Carols by Candlelight no longer has the "click to donate" button, instead all donation links open an email addressed to Steve Vaus.  The language about 4 Community Solutions has changed slightly on Carols by Candlelight:

Vaus is still implying that 4 Community Solutions and Carols by Candlelight are the same thing. In fact, Carols by Candlelight does not have a nonprofit number. It is not a registered nonprofit.